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Yours, KOW

The Maelström, 2024

Serrekunda, The Gambia. May 2023

Gambia, Africa, a walled-in compound. Men are put up against the wall. Hands behind your heads. Hands behind your backs. On your knees! One after the other, they go through the motions of a universally familiar choreography of obedience and submission. Their master? The camera. Cut. Transplanted into an abstract visual space, the same black bodies return on a digital stage before a white backdrop like the graphic elements of an increasingly ornamental, dehumanized composition, forming patterns, grids, circles.

The action in the picture is almost drowned out by a voice, the voice of Europe. It is the voice of Josep Borrell, the European Union’s high representative for foreign affairs and security policy, the second-most important person in Brussels. In 2022, it became publicly known that Borrell had given a speech in which he had called Europe a garden and the rest of the world a jungle that needed to be brought under control. It was a textbook-ready specimen of racism and colonialism, an instant classic of the genre. Sierra replays it in a loop, again and again; at first you don’t believe your ears, then you get sick to your stomach.

Sierra’s project is carefully calculated. His film and accompanying photographic works were created in collaboration with players of the Gambian football team Tallinding United, who performed for The Maelstrom. Among the sources of inspiration for the choreographic arrangements were the principles of Busby Berkeley, the influential Hollywood choreographer and director of musical films who established the geometric-modern play with bodies in large numbers as a widely popular form of entertainment; around the same time, the Nazis, too, whipped their crowds into visual shape. A very different inspiration were the pictures coming from El Salvador: the staged abasement of young men made to surrender their bodies to a brutal carceral regime by the tens of thousands made headlines around the world in 2022. The Israeli military recently applied the same image politics when it published pictures of Palestinian prisoners in their underwear.

Santiago Sierra’s new work unmasks the postcolonial Western rhetoric. It points to the continuity of the European pattern of really existing colonialism and racism. The Maelstrom eventually congeals into exactly the kind of menacing, apocalyptic Black mass that strikes such fear into the hearts of Europeans like Borrell and that anarchists like Sierra welcome as an uncontainable geopolitical biopower from below.

4K video installation
16:9, b&w, sound
34:52 min

  • INDEX:

Santiago Sierra

The Maelström, 2024
National Coat of Arms of Spain Stamped with Blood, 2022
National Flag Of Spain Submerged In Blood, 2021
Pigs Devouring The Italic Peninsula, 2012
Destroyed Word, 2012
World’s Largest Graffiti, 2012
Franz Erhard Walther and Santiago Sierra Demonstrating No. 46 From Walthers First Workset, 2011
NO Projected Above The Pope, 2011
War Veterans Facing The Corner, 2011 - Ongoing
Person Obstructing a Line of Containers, 2009
Attempt to Build Four 100x100 cm Sand Cubes, 2009
Teeth of the Last Gipsies of Ponticelli, 2008
THE PENETRATED (box), 2008
Burned Buildings (Found Scene), 2008
89 Huichols, 2006
Doorplate, 2006
245 m³, 2006
House in Mud, 2005
Hooded Woman Seated Facing The Wall, 2003
Hiring and Arrangement of 30 Workers in Relation to Their Skin Color, 2002
Person Saying a Phrase, 2002
3 Cubes of 100 cm on Each Side Moved 700 cm, 2002
Object measuring 600 x 57 x 52 cm Constructed to be Held Horizontally to a Wall, 2001
10 Inch Line Shaved on The Heads of Two Junkies Who Received a Shot of Heroin as Payment, 2000
Obstruction of a road with different objects, 2000
The Wall of a Gallery Pulled Out, Inclined 60 Degrees From the Ground and Sustained by 5 People, 2000
Obstruction of a Freeway With a Truck‘s Trailer, 1998
Gallery Burned With Gasoline, 1997
Footbridge Obstructed with Wrapping Tape, 1996
50 liters of gasoline in an abandoned field, 1994
50 kg of Plaster in the Street, 1994
2 Cylinders Each Measuring 250 × 250 cm, Composed of Posters That Have Been Torn Down, 1994
20 Pieces of Road Measuring 100 × 100 cm Pulled Up From the Ground, 1992
Geometric Postcards, 1990
Walks, 1990
Mountains, 1990
Prism, 1990

Santiago Sierra's oeuvre stands out from the art history of the past 30 years like a massive black monolith. The Spaniard, who was born in 1966 and also lived in Latin America, knows like no other how to use the established forms and rules of contemporary art to give the violence and injustice of Western modernity a face - a face that is our own. The formal language of minimalism, in its distanced, cool way, is particularly suited to being short-circuited with the abstract economic and institutional apparatuses that bind people into the dehumanized conditions of production, migration, (self-)exploitation, and stigmatization. Those conditions, in other words, that guarantee the privileges of most of the viewers to whom Sierra's work addresses itself in the art world. Not everyone likes that. Sierra is the living shadow in the repressed bad conscience of power and money, with which people rule over people. His work has been honored institutionally many times, and in 2003 he represented Spain at the Venice Biennale.

Full Biography